(UPDATE: Mayor Lenny Curry announced this morning that all Confederate monuments in Jacksonville will be taken down.)
After years of debate, and on the heels of a national movement to eliminate memorials to the Confederacy, the city of Jacksonville has removed its 122-year-old Confederate monument from the center of Hemming Park.
The monument’s removal by city workers took place overnight. The decision to remove the monument comes in advance of a planned protest later this morning, to be led by Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars and rapper and entertainer Lil Duval. Mayor Lenny Curry is also expected to attend.
The monument’s removal comes after years of discussion over whether such a tribute was appropriate for a major city square. Weeks of protest over police brutality and racial violence toward Black Americans have brought the monument debate back to the forefront of national discourse, as cities throughout the country reckon with their past decisions to honor those that fought against the Union – and to preserve the institution of slavery.
The monument in Hemming Park was originally erected in 1898 by Civil War veteran Charles Hemming. It was added to the park several decades after it opened, prompting what was then known as St. James Park to be renamed in Hemming’s honor.
The monument survived the Great Fire of 1901, with onlookers at the time reporting that it ominously glowed bright red amidst the flames.
Though the monument’s presence was always regrettable, it became particularly tone-deaf when, in August 1960, Hemming Park was struck by one of the nation’s most brutal occurrences of racial violence. On Ax Handle Saturday, as the event came to be known, a group of nonviolent Black protestors at the lunch counters surrounding the park were besieged by an unruly white mob featuring several members of the Ku Klux Klan, who began beating the protestors with ax handles and other objects as local police officers sat by and watched.
In recent years, several community leaders have proposed removing the Confederate monument in Hemming Park – along with other monuments to Confederate soldiers located elsewhere in the city. But despite the support of many residents, those movements never materialized into meaningful action.
Now, the park will move forward without the monument, the final fate of which is currently unknown. The city will likely soon re-evaluate Confederate Park in Springfield as well.
Of course, removing these monuments doesn’t solve racial inequality, nor does it erase decades of glorifying the Confederacy. But it’s a move that represents the city’s desire to progress beyond its troubled roots, to begin the process of healing and create a community that instills pride in its residents rather than embarrassment.